The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has passed an interim order in connection with allegations of Sterlite operating a second unit in Tuticorin by violating the Environmental Protection Act of 1986. The court, on Wednesday, 23 May, stayed any further expansion by the copper smelter.
The High Court also directed the Centre to hold a public hearing within four months before granting environment clearance to the Sterlite copper smelter plant. The decision on expansion, the court said, should be made by September.
It ordered the Vedanta Group to send a fresh petition to the Centre for environmental clearance.
The court observed that Vedanta would require a separate clearance for phase 2 of its copper smelter and could not use clearance granted for phase 1.
The interim stay comes on a petition filed by R Fatima of Tuticorin. Following the interim order, she told Puthiya Thalaimurai, “Although this is an interim stay, there are possibilities of it becoming a permanent stay.”
In her petition, Fatima stated that Sterlite Industries obtained environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for a second copper smelter plant in 2009. It was renewed in 2015 and 2016 by allegedly misrepresenting the project location. Sterlite claimed that it was within a notified industrial complex.
But according to the petitioner, SIPCOT Industrial Estate Phase II, where the proposed copper smelter plant was to be commissioned, itself was yet to obtain environmental clearance from the authorities.
Fathima alleged that the environmental clearance was given to the second copper plant without any public hearing, one of the requirements for the grant of clearance.
"Time and again the public complained about health hazards that were caused by the operation of the plant," her petition charged.
On 18 May, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court reserved its orders on a public interest litigation petition filed against SIPCOT and Sterlite Industries for operating without an environmental clearance. A Division Bench of Justices M Sundar and Anita Sumanth reserved the orders in the case after listening to arguments from all sides.
This order from the High Court at a time when tensions are high in Tuticorin after 11 people including a minor were killed in clashes between police and demonstrators. The state government and police force have come under heavy scrutiny for opening fire on unarmed protesters on the 100th day of agitations against Sterlite.
(This story was first published on The News Minute and has been reproduced here with permission)